I sit here perched on the edge of obscurity ignoring the never-ending, kettle-like whistle incessantly piercing my conscious thought. Diverting my attention toward the vast vacuum of space enveloping our very existence, I dismiss the high-pitched scream that enforces upon me an overbearing sense of isolation. Watching for any sign of movement through my oversized rectangular portal, I detect nothing but dust and rocks stretching for eternity across its barren red vista. Somewhere out there, help is on its way, and I want to be the first to spot it.
I continue to monitor the readings on my tablet, reminding me how the uninhabitable conditions of thin atmosphere, no oxygen, and low gravity outside, work together to intentionally trap us inside our oxygen rich, pressurised pod. A walk in the park, a trek across snowy mountains, a swim in the ocean, are just fairy tales to recount during social hour. Walks outside, can only be made inside the protection of a specialised suit, and are time limited because of the planet’s absence of adequate protection from the sun’s rays and its bitter cold temperatures. So, I - like most here - sit stranded in a protected habitat on a red rock, with no other company than our own to encourage positive belief that the imminent arrival of the first supply ship in almost a year, is getting closer to becoming a reality.
As I religiously look to the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of the pending arrival, a shimmering twinkle of lights help to brighten my outlook on life, temporarily alleviating my feelings of hopelessness. Their countless sparkles of distant celestial echoes of life, warmly remind me of my childhood space travel imaginations. From a very early age, I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I was going to fly to space and reach for the stars. All I had to do was pick a shiny dot and head towards it. It did not matter to my childish aspirations that most of those faint objects of light out there were too far away to reach with the propulsion technology that existed then. Even now, the celestial destinations are still void of sufficient information for our scientists to calculate the risks of journeying to the unknown. Life is out there in those distant shimmers of light, and one day, we will find it. But first, we must overcome the melancholy of loneliness, the morale-reducing fading of expectations, and the abject frustration of the failure to survive on a planet much closer to home.
Each night – for the past fifty-three nights, a hopeful group of celestial explorers have bowed their heads in disappointment before escaping to a land of dreams – the promise of rescue, being the only motive to wake them the next day. We understood only too well, the risk of being the first colony on a desert planet, knowing the possibility that our exploration meant a one-way ticket to dust. Rescue is just a term given to our potential return to Earth. Most here realise repatriation with the beautiful blue marble, somewhere out there in the darkness of space, is a colourful story unfolding only in their sleeping moments. Continued existence on a lifeless planet is mandatory, until the next colonists arrive. Without any guarantees of available seats on the return journey, the mission must continue. Hopefully, our pioneering efforts will not be in vain. Hopefully, we will be remembered by future generations.
Waking to the welcoming thunder of thrusting rockets, alerted us to the arrival of fresh materials upon our inhospitable land, signifying resupply to our besieged existence. I witnessed in awe, the stabilising gimbled thrusters steadying a final descent toward touchdown, three months in the planning and six months in anticipation. A delayed communication alerted us to the launch of the resupply mission bringing water to our parched and thirsty lips and food for our hungry, almost empty stomachs. All we had to do was hang on and hope it survived the journey to its Martian destination, Holden Crater - our home for the past three years.
Our objective was to find water. We achieved that part of the mission; however, we failed miserably to extract it from the polar ice fields. Too many layers of red sand soaked up the moisture, as it sped upwards at high velocity, turning the water into dry sludge. Whatever did escape to the surface, just boiled away, evaporating before our eyes, and abandoning us to our fate.
The whistle of its pressurised liquid escape continues to haunt me, drowning my soul in its crying agony, the wasted molecules of its liquid life disappearing into the stratosphere. What once was abundant under the planet’s surface, has been lost forever, wisping its way westward across the river Styx toward the Isles of the blessed and onto the Elysium fields of ancient gods, the righteous, and the heroic. Homer saw it, why couldn’t we? What manner of man’s quest to explore the stars, neglected the basic instinct to survive? Homer stated that the journey is its own reward. He obviously never travelled so far that civilisation became one tiny dot in a universe of billions. Poorly prepared and hastily executed, we arrived on the planet low on food and high on expectation of replenishing our water supply with the abundant resources the subterranean lakes would provide. That prospect died violently with a broken drill leaving a crack so wide, that an endless wailing of pressurised, muddied steam escaped from it, producing a volume of uncontrollable, irritating soundwaves reverberating through our lonely spirits. If the western winds of Mars contain the songs of Elysium within their airy repertoire, we - in the East, are trapped without doubt – in a nightmarish, screaming red hell.
Homer’s ancient quote that said, “Everything is beautiful because we are doomed,” is a lie. Nothing looks beautiful here. We are doomed to fail. An exercise on what could go wrong did go wrong. We are not being rescued by the automated arrival of a starship. We are being kept alive to further the experiment in the form of extra-terrestrial guinea pigs. The crewless rocket is just visiting, and we have three days to unload its cargo before it returns to Earth. Looking at the flight’s manifest, I couldn’t help but let out a derisory chuckle at an item labelled, purified water granules. What did those ephemerally contracted boffins back at Star Base Earth think we were going to use to hydrate the powder with? Let’s just sprinkle the useless dust onto the increasingly large fissure spraying millions of droplets from deep within its bowels and watch purified steam escape into nothingness.
My return from temporary insanity quickly realised the granules were purely an additive to eliminate any micro-organisms from the liquid we failed to harness. Thirst had taken its toll on my logical thought. I wasn’t the only one affected. I could see that as I watched through my window at the erratic driving by some of the cargo retrieval crew. Somehow, the lack of hydro-infused sustenance coupled with food rationing had adverse effects on most of us. It was a wonder that to this point in time, no-one had yet been hurt. There was a close call a few days prior when an engineer on a maintenance assignment to check the outside communication dishes, forgot to put on his Mars suit before entering the airlock. Exhaustion-induced dehydration had invoked a hallucinatory state of mind within his consciousness, creating the illusion he was back home on Earth, about to go and mow his lawn. The lack of his vitals missing from a medical monitor alerted the crew leader, who quickly reversed the depressurisation in the airlock. The engineer was lucky. To everyone’s envy, he got sent to sick bay where he received extra rations of water and food. However, no-one dared to repeat the near fatal error – no matter how weak they felt. The will to survive is strong in humans and certainly so in the new citizens of Mars. Risk taking can lead to loss of life. A wake-up call telling everyone to stay alert, lest they involuntarily become the first to prop up a tombstone on the planet.
With four unscheduled spaces available on the return of the Starship to Earth, the chat has been about sending some of us home. Those who want to leave have put their names in a hat to be drawn by our commander. She is staying, but ten of the forty-seven residents of Mars’ first colony have opted to leave. Due to weight vs fuel ratio, we can’t all go. It is no shame to want to return to Earth. It actually helps those that stay. Food and fresh water supplies will go that little bit further until the larger supply ship arrives in just over sixty days from now. I will still be here to greet it. I didn’t get picked, anyway.
We continue to make our own oxygen, grow a limited supply of produce, and now with supplies and tools replenished, we can look to capping that growing chasm and pipe whatever water remains to our large desalination storage tanks purposely built to filter the sediment from the liquid. Perhaps then, the shrieking whistle will cease its incessant painfully high-pitched, ear-piercing noise. Things are looking up, but we have learned a valuable lesson on becoming more self-efficient. Miscalculations can be fatal on the fourth rock from the sun. Mistaking it as another Earth is like comparing stone to water. Both have the capabilities to move mountains, but only one can sustain life. Let us not forget the lessons we learn here. Let us document every experience into a Mars-like bible for those that follow. They will become learned disciples of a written word not born of religious beliefs, but experiences compiled into a collaborative sharing of useful information. What we achieve here and, in the future, will pave the way for more missions, more people, and more colonies to call Mars their home. Seek to learn and learn to seek. May that be a Mars motto. Go forth as Earthlings and return as Martians. Explore in the name of humankind and discover wonders. Build new technologies and really reach for the stars. Resupplied and replenished on a regular basis, we will prevail, we will grow, and we will survive. A new Mars Day dawns, bringing with it a transitory nature of Earthly joy, and a universal reprieve from fear…
“…Oh, hello darling…”
“The kettle is boiling, and that whistle is loud and annoying. I don’t know why you can’t just get an electric kettle like everyone else.”
“I’ll put it on my list for the next supply mission.”
“Mum, what are you talking about?”
“Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed… “
“You will never be lovelier than you are now…”
“You’re lost in a story again, aren’t you.”
“We will never be here again.”
“It’s Homer, my little cherub…”
“No, its… just go do your homework… and it’s about time you studied Greek Philosophy… You can’t keep looking out of your bedroom window dreaming all the time, can you…!? I’ll bring you up a nice cup of herbal tea to help you study… did you hear me…? On the next flight up…”
“Oh and tell your father that the grass needs mowing…! Now, where was I…? Oh yes…”
A new Mars Day dawns, bringing with it a transitory nature of Earthly joy…
“No, that’s just repeating the title… Damn! I’ve lost my train of thought, now… Gosh, I do love writing…”